Not Being The Rock Of Offense: When Church and Business Collide

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Matt Briscoe

When the lines between church and state meet, the boundaries oftentimes become blurred. But what about when the lines of business, church and community cross paths? That question is the dilemma that one church in Texas is facing and one man finds himself in the middle.

David Bendett is pastor of Rock City Church in the Corpus Christi suburb of Flour Bluff.

“Even though my title is ‘pastor’, what I really am is a father” Bendett tells me over coffee.

But the story of David Bendett goes much deeper. Bendett is a sort of  raggamuffin type character. He is a leader, savvy businessman and collected spirit. He is a man who knows what it means to be a street survivor and a man who knows how to pick up the pieces and move on.

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Move on is exactly what Bendett has done. Over 20 years ago he found himself using drugs, following a popular rock and roll band and in and out of jail. Bendett even spent a short time in prison, but what he feels is by the grace of God, he was able to turn his life around.

Today, Bendett not only wears the hats of a pastor, husband and father. He wears the hat of a businessperson who understands the role and wears it fantastically well.

What you might be thinking is that Bendett is a typical American Evangelical pastor whose church is a business, one that is the business of preaching, gathering offerings, selling books, operating a school and being engaged in nearly every type of fundraising that one could imagine while using their tax exempt status to the fullest.

But with David Bendett, that is not the case at all. In fact, his business and the church that he pastors are very different entities.

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Bendett owns a couple of popular local coffeehouses. Inside there are no books by popular Christian authors, no contemporary Christian music songs blasting from the Muzak system and no self proclaimed missionaries hanging around in the dark waiting for the next unsuspecting coffee lover.

In fact, though the church and the coffee shop share the same building in the same shopping center, that is owned by the ministry, you never would know that Bendett oversees the both of them.

“I love the business community and I love to see local business thrive” says Bendett, who employs 22 people. “I love the community.”

But just like many other communities throughout the United States, that loyalty has started to come into question by some people who feel that churches are becoming too big and largely impersonal.

But right here in Flour Bluff, this all too typical battle has taken an interesting twist.

Not only does Rock City Church and the coffee shop share the same shopping center, but a handful of other businesses have set up shop there, including the well known value retailer, Dollar General.

When the news broke late this Summer that the Dollar General would be closing the doors in the shopping center, the rumors within the local community began to ripen.

“That’s all we need here is a money driven mega church”, Brenda Ramos tells me as she gets out of her car to go grab a few items at the retailer in which she claims she visits several times a week. “When they bought this building they never intended to keep Dollar General because they had bigger dreams.”

That is a point of order that Bendett doesn’t deny. In fact, Bendett says that discussions by the previous owner had even included not renewing the lease to Dollar General.

“They are a typical modern day church” says area resident Charlie Spicer. “Churches today believe that more room means more services that they can offer the community, but really they are just expanding in order to meet the needs of their congregation.”

The truth of the matter is in fact that Rock City Church does need room to expand. The spaces for their children’s ministry are cramped and crowded. A nursery is located right inside the front door, an obvious safety risk that anyone could readily see.

The fact is that the church has grown by exponentially since its inception only a few years ago and since the dawn of Christianity, the goal has been to convince the masses in the word of God and fill the pews.

“There is nothing wrong with filling the seats” church consultant Brent Edwards says. “But where pastors tend to get confused is that because they have been given much, they too must give. And that does not mean just to their congregants.”

Though some would insist to the contrary, giving back is exactly what Rock City Church has done.

“When somebody needs help, we do not turn them away,” Bendett says, pointing out the various ways that Rock City Church helps those in need.

Sitting next door to the closing Dollar General is 10,000 square feet of prime retail space that Rock City Church uses as a storehouse of sorts, to distribute clothing to those in need—no questions asked.

Though initially that branch of the ministry will be closing, at least temporarily, Bendett does say that plans are in place to relocate the clothing to a new location.

But circling back to the reason this entire expansion project has come into question by some in the community, Dollar General claims full responsibility.

Mary Katherine Colbert, a corporate representative for the Tennessee based corporation said that “as part of a continual review on how we can best meet our customers’ needs, we made the decision to close our store on South Padre Island Drive in Corpus Christi.”

That statement would seem to take the questioning off of Bendett and the church that he pastors—but it doesn’t.

“You cannot tell me that they didn’t influence Dollar General’s decision” said area resident Michelle Tate.

Tate, who claims to be a devoted Catholic claims that she feels this is a “common tactic used by evangelical Christians”, as she put it.

“I feel this is just another way to force the community into seeing their pretentious arrogance” Tate says.

But Bendett, who is likely the least pretentious man that you will ever meet, is well aware of how some in the community perceive his mission and his inspired calling.

“I care about these people because I am one of them”, he says.

And you might feel that the story ends there. But it doesn’t.

Flour Bluff is not the most affluent neighborhood of the economically dichotomous community of Corpus Christi.

“Look around” says area resident and humanitarian Lisa Cray. “Out here you see a lot of transient and street people and in a sense, this is their home.”

Cray stops to talk with an economically challenged person that she knows. She gives the person a sack containing two sandwiches and two bottles of water. The man says that this is the first food he has had since the last time that they saw each other—3 days.

“Some people will always complain about helping the transient community, but they likely have never truly been destitute or ever will be”, Cray says.

“I’m glad to see the church expanding” she admits. “And I am agnostic.”

One man who lives on the street in the area opens up about the area of town that he chooses to call home. He calls himself “Rags.”

“It used to be pretty good”, Rags says. That is until too many street people started coming to Flour Bluff.

“Real crazy people with no respect. That is the type of street people who are moving out here”, says Rags.

And it seems to be true.

“We don’t let them sleep here or hang out here” Bendett says as he points to a pile of cat litter and what appears to be human feces in front of the closing Dollar General with the busted glass front door.

“Just look at this”, Bendett says shaking his head. But deep down, just like the God he serves, Bendett loves them, too.

You get the impression that Bendett truly wants to do more for the community.

“I truly love people and I want to help them” he says.

Bendett admits that as pastor, he doesn’t even look at the giving records of his congregants. “That wouldn’t be popular among many pastors”, Bendett says partly joking, yet obviously serious.

Even though Rock City Church does in fact need room to expand and Dollar General Corporation does admit that the store closing was solely their decision, like with anything, there will be objection. But despite those objections, the main objective for David Bendett is to love those that he serves and it is obvious that he wants his congregation, and the community to see exactly where his heart is—with the community that he truly loves.

“I love this community”, Bendett says repeatedly. And regardless of how some objectors see it, Bendett loves the community just the way love is supposed to be—without any strings attached.